Page 2: Political factors
Political factors include government policies, legislation and foreign influences, particularly from the European Union (EU). Several political factors surround the issue of immigration. Legislation on immigration comes both from the UK government and from the EU. For example, workers from all EU countries, except Romania and Bulgaria, have the right to live and work in the UK. Since the expansion of the EU in 2004, around 700,000 Polish workers have registered to work in the UK, boosting the UK workforce, enabling the economy to expand.
Immigration is an emotive issue, which often generates sensational headlines in tabloid newspapers. These include allegations that migrant workers 'take' British jobs or that they 'undercut' pay levels, working for less than British workers. The data available does not support these allegations. UNISON believes that if migrant workers are part of a trade union membership and can benefit from properly negotiated pay rates, this type of misinformation will not arise.
As part of its campaign, UNISON aims to dispel the negative views on migration. Migrant workers play an extremely important role in providing many needed services. This provision would not be possible without migrant workers. Government statistics prove that the overall effects of net migration into the UK have been positive for UK businesses and the economy.
In areas of high migrant populations, there are greater pressures due to, for example, insufficient housing and health provision. The migrant workers population is not evenly spread across the UK - the majority of migrants are in London and the South East, according to government statistics.
In addition, because of the short-term nature of much of the work, the pattern of migrant workers is not easy to track. Government and local authorities need to be able to invest in services sufficiently quickly to meet the demand. It is important to understand that the same pressures on services would occur if large numbers of UK workers suddenly moved to an area.
One of the most important political factors in UNISON's external environment is employment legislation. UNISON aims to ensure that these laws meet the needs of workers by lobbying the government when it feels the law needs changing. In a recent report, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) found that many employers were ignoring employment law. Some companies were not paying their workers the minimum wage, while others forced workers to work longer than legally permitted under the working time directive. It can be very difficult for migrant workers to get legal advice when they have problems at work. This is partly due to language barriers. Many also fear losing their jobs if they complain.
Like other low-paid workers, they rely on legal advice, paid for by the government through legal aid. Reduced funding for legal aid and for immigration advice in particular has resulted in fewer solicitors taking on legal aid cases. Many migrant workers seeking help have been turned away. As a result, UNISON has put in place legal advice and information services to help migrant workers understand their rights.